Steve Hodges grew up in South Korea, where his
parents served as missionaries. His father, a United Methodist
minister, was the district evangelist in Taejon.
Hodges initially began to follow in his
father’s footsteps, attending Perkins School of Theology and Union
But ultimately, he felt his was a different path.
Hodges graduated in 1980 as a lay person. After living in Richmond, Va., and beginning the Richmond Peace Education Center, Hodges felt a need to return to Korea. What he saw in that country would come to change the focus of his life.
“We were inspired by how the Korean church had found a way to minister to the poor and to empower them,” Hodges said.
After serving as translators in Korea for two years, Hodges, and his wife, Diantha, returned to the United States.
“ We had seen in Korea how a lot of churches were combining evangelism with social services,” Diantha Hodges said. “Steve wanted to work toward long-term community change that would make a difference over time.”
He had a vision and talked to the United Methodist Church. He wanted to start a mission project to an underserved area in the country. The Hodges had always loved the Appalachian Region, and after driving around the state looking at economic need, settled on Hancock County.
They spoke with the minister of the local United Methodist church, First Sneedville UMC, and were greeted with open arms.
“We were looking for a place and they were looking for us,” she said.
For daughters, Hope, Joy, and Sarah Grace, the move was a great one.
“They liked the idea of settling down some place,” Diantha said. “This was their fifth location. They were excited about building a house.”
The couple began the Jubilee Project Inc., a nonprofit organization where Hodges serves as executive director.
One of the first things on the drawing board was to get a youth organization going.
The next goal was to address the economic needs of the county. Working with Sheri Baker and Janet Hechmer, the Jubilee Project worked to start the Clinch Appalachian Artisans Cooperative, which provides a sales outlet to artisans in the area.
Since its humble beginnings in 1991, the Jubilee Project has worked as a small business incubator, holding small business classes and countywide projects.
The most recent projects include the development of the Clinch-Powell Community Kitchens, a shared-use commercial kitchen in which farmers and small-business people can create their own value added food products, and the creation of Appalachian Spring Cooperative, an association of growers and food processors using the Clinch-Powell Community Kitchens to produce gourmet food products for commercial sale.
“It’s about giving people the means with which to take care of their own needs,” Hodges said.
Jubilee has also helped with clothing donations, for the Overhome Clothing Center, started the Hancock Education Boosters Association, which provides books for the school libraries, provides school supplies, and brings in artists and scientists to work with teachers.
Hodges also worked with the Sneedville/Hancock Community Partners and the Chamber of Commerce.
Through its home repair program, Jubilee has also directly impacted Hancock County residents.
“We’ve seen our community change in a good way,” Diantha Hodges said.
Hodges said his agency needs to pay attention to what is happening in the community with the changes in the economy.
“It affects people with smaller incomes more quickly and more drastically,” he said.
Future plans include looking at ways to help people start gardens or to expand the gardens they already have, Hodges said.
Other future goals are the beginning of individual development accounts: a matched savings account program that participants can use to fund an education, small business, or the purchase of a home.
Through financial literacy training, people will learn to manage the assets they build, Hodges said.
“This is asset development,” he said. “It also increases self-esteem and an increased sense of responsibility. "
Reprinted with permission of the Morristown Citizen Tribune. This article was originally published on July 14, 2008. Hodges is a member of First Sneedville UMC in Morristown District and chair of Holston's Outreach/Advocacy Team.